4 questions Caleb Williams, Bears must answer during mandatory minicamp

Eberflus: Spring practice will be ‘learning for everybody’

Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus, left top, smiles as he talks with quarterback Caleb Williams (18) during the NFL football team's rookie camp in May at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill.

The Bears will kick off three days of mandatory minicamp this week at Halas Hall. This will be the busiest three-day stretch of practices for the team during the spring practice session.

Mandatory minicamp is – as the name implies – mandatory for all players. Many veterans have financial bonuses tied to their attendance at veteran minicamp.

This will be a big week for Bears rookie quarterback Caleb Williams, who appeared to struggle during one open OTA practice a week ago. He will have the chance to prove himself this week with his veteran teammates in what is a precursor to training camp.

Here are a few questions the Bears will look to answer during minicamp this week.

1. Is Caleb Williams learning from his mistakes?

Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Williams looks to a throw during the NFL football team's rookie camp at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill., Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Williams had a tough time a week ago. Passes hit the ground frequently. The No. 1 overall draft pick probably would’ve been sacked on several occasions if it were live action, not a controlled practice.

But nobody is surprised that a rookie quarterback is struggling in May. Now is the time when he should be struggling. The goal is to prepare him for what he’s going to face in September. All of this is new, even for a highly coveted quarterback prospect.

“With Caleb, it’s really just about when he can rip the call, get the call in and out of the huddle, breaking the huddle, having that pace that we need to have,” head coach Matt Eberflus said. “We’ve been doing the walk-throughs and he’s been really good with that. This is the first time going against a pro defense, and a pretty good one. It’s going to be learning for everybody.”

The question is how quickly is Williams learning from his mistakes? This week will be a big indicator of that. Does Williams look better now, after several weeks of practice, than he did two weeks ago?

2. Will key vets show up?

Several key veterans were not present earlier in the spring practice period. Defensive end Montez Sweat, receiver Keenan Allen, right guard Nate Davis and right tackle Darnell Wright were not present during open practices.

Sweat and Allen are veterans who fans probably don’t need to worry about. At the same time, it would be nice for Williams to begin building an on-field relationship with Allen, but there will be plenty of time to do that in August.

Sweat is one of the key defensive pieces. He led the team in sacks last season (despite joining the team halfway through the year). Like Allen, the Bears probably aren’t worried about him.

“We had a chance to visit, to debrief and to just talk about where we are in the offseason,” defensive coordinator Eric Washington said of Sweat. “So he’s stayed connected to the offseason. I’ll be excited as he continues to take advantage of this offseason.”

Davis and Wright were notable absences on the offensive line and it’s hard to get a full picture on the line without them.

Will those veterans return for minicamp or are more no-shows expected?

3. Does Williams have his 3 WRs?

Chicago Bears wide receiver Rome Odunze catches a ball during the NFL football team's rookie camp at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill., Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Allen’s presence this week is to be determined. DJ Moore rarely misses practice, whether that’s in season or out of season. No. 9 overall draft pick Rome Odunze has missed some time this spring with a hamstring injury, but was back in action during an open practice on Friday.

How important is it for Williams to have his top three targets? The sooner the rookie QB can start building those on-field relationships, the better. Playbooks can be studied in a classroom, but chemistry has to be built on the field. It’s one thing to know what to do and it’s another thing to actually do it.

The Bears can’t help that Odunze suffered a minor setback. But ideally, they’ll want all their rookies participating as often as possible.

The Bears hope they have a three-headed monster at wide receiver with Moore, Allen and Odunze. The key will be keeping all three of those weapons healthy and available.

4. Just how good is Bears’ D-line?

It’s unclear whether the Bears will have Sweat, their Pro Bowl defensive end, this week. Regardless, this team hopes it has the makings of a top defensive line.

It can be hard to make true judgments on the line play – offensive or defensive – when players aren’t wearing full pads. Still, several players have impressed with their quickness during OTAs.

Defensive tackle Gervon Dexter appears ready to step into a starting role. Tackle Zacch Pickens could be ready for a bigger role. Rookie fifth-round pick Austin Booker looks like quite an athlete on the edge.

The Bears are hoping to build a stable of reliable pass rushers. Most NFL defensive lines go seven or eight players deep on any given Sunday. Washington, the new defensive coordinator, is here to build a championship-level defensive line. He has coached some good ones with the Bears (2008-10), Panthers (2011-19) and Bills (2020-23).

“I’m really excited about what the defensive line is doing,” Washington said. “I see revised and refined pass rush fundamentals and I just see a group that is really working together right now, that has a lot of energy, that they’re developing the attitude that we are going to need going into the season.”

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.